Ralph Millet's soft manner and courtly New England accent hid a tough guy who introduced Saab cars to the United States and who stood up for the U.S. auto import industry in its infancy.
"He was always very gentlemanly, which was why everyone supported him for the Automobile Importers of America presidency," said Graham Whitehead,a longtime friend.
"He appeared non-controversial, but believe me, he had rather a firm hand," he said. Whitehead is the retired president of Jaguar Cars Inc.
Millet, 85, died Dec. 20. He ran the company that is now Saab Cars USA Inc., from its inception in 1959 to 1971. He continued as a consultant for another three decades.
Millet also was president of the Automobile Importers of America and its successor, the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers, from 1965 to 1977. He remained the group's chairman until 1987, said Washington attorney David Busby.
Busby said that in 1975, Millet's lobbying organization beat back what Busby called an attempt to limit automobile imports in a case before the U.S. International Trade Commission. It was sponsored by Ford Motor Co. and the UAW. Millet also testified several times before Congress on federal legislation affecting the auto industry.